ECONOMY

The next challenge for banks

Managing the effects of the financial crisis on households and businesses is the big challenge facing the banking system in 2009. The quality of loan portfolios will be put to a new test, putting the banks that have not properly assessed their risks in a difficult position. Economic analysts and bank officials are pessimistic. They tell Kathimerini that Greece does not need to go into a recession in order for its economy to suffer a shock. Even an estimated growth rate of around 1.5 percent for 2009 will have significant consequences on an economy accustomed to growth rates more than twice that in the last few years. The greatest worries are being expressed for tourism companies, shipping, the construction sector, commerce and the thousands of freelancers who will be directly affected by the crisis. The National Bank has issued loans of 1.6 billion euros to shipping firms (some 2.4 percent of its total portfolio) and another 500 million euros to construction companies. Alpha and Piraeus Bank are more exposed in these sectors: Alpha has loaned 1.5 billion euros to shipping, 2 billion to tourism firms and 4.5 billion to construction and real estate companies, while Piraeus has credited shipping with 1.5 billion euros, construction with 2.5 billion and commerce with 4.3 billion euros. Bucking the global trend, banks are showing significant profits this year, although it is worth noting that the major commercial banks were burdened with a total of 2.1 billion euros in accounting losses that were not included in the three-quarter figures but have a direct effect on their net position.